Supporters say shed not detrimental to neighborhood
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Cold Spring’s Zoning Board of Appeals Wednesday (April 23) unanimously approved a variance allowing the bitterly-contested backyard shed on Stone Street to remain in place as is, capping the latest — and many hope, last — round in an acrimonious multi-year fight that pitted residents against their neighbors and the village government.
While granting the variance the board stated that the approval depends on limiting the shed to its present use, meaning it cannot be transformed into living space. The provision reflected fears expressed by the shed’s adversaries as well as the ZBA’s own thinking about safeguards.
The vote followed a public hearing on the suitability of the variance, requested by Stone Street homeowners Beth Sigler and Paul Henderson, who constructed the shed at Number 14 to replace a crumbling predecessor and serve gardening and related purposes. But neighbors behind them, Susan Peehl and Andrew Hall, complained strenuously about the shed, Cold Spring’s building department, village officials, and the granting of a certificate of occupancy, or formal permission to use the shed.
A month ago, the ZBA revoked the certificate of occupancy but declared that the only problem it found was the shed’s non-conformity with the village code, which reflects suburban-style zoning, not that of a historic, largely 19th-century village. Sigler and Henderson retained the option of seeking a variance, since the shed fails to meet the zoning law’s rules on setbacks (appropriate distance from a property line).
Sigler told the ZBA Wednesday that the problem involved only “minor dimensional inconsistencies” with zoning law. She and Henderson, and their supporters, also argued that during the several-year process of planning and building the shed, they dutifully complied with all the village’s instructions.
During the public hearing, neighbor after neighbor and friend after friend of Sigler and Henderson in the packed room endorsed the variance. Neighbors, current and previous, said they found the shed an attractive and welcome addition to the neighborhood. Shed supporters also lamented the long and vitriolic fight.
“This has been going on for some time,” said Tim Hynes, who lives on Fair Street near the shed. He said that Henderson and Sigler had devoted considerable efforts to fixing up their house, even before building the shed, and urged that they be given the variance. “They deserve it,” Hynes said. “You’re talking about a family that works, just like me … and are trying to be part of the community. I think it would be ludicrous for them not to get their variance.”
David Birn reported surveying a three-block area around the shed, discovering that 22 properties have similar accessory buildings. “Every single one is close in on the property line” or “within a foot or two of the property line,” he said. They add to the character of the community and the Sigler-Henderson shed “really takes its place beautifully and movingly within the context of all these,” he told the ZBA.
Fair Street resident Jack Myers said the shed “blends in well” with the historic neighborhood and “looks a thousand times better than [the one] before.” Myer rued the effects of the conflict on a once-close neighborhood. “An entire block went from friendly to hateful almost overnight,” he said. Moreover, the treatment by their critics of Henderson and Sigler seems grossly out of proportion to mistakes anyone made, he said. “Were 11 inches or 6 inches worth the animosity generated?” he wondered aloud. “Is this about justice, or revenge?”
Peehl said she and Hall appreciate the lengths Sigler and Henderson have gone to make their case. “But all of this could have been avoided if the code had been followed from the beginning,” she said. Furthermore, she said she and her husband “are worried about the new use. Will somebody try to live there?”
After the vote, Henderson said he “can’t quite believe it yet” that he got the variance. “It’s been so long, so prolonged” and excruciatingly difficult a process, he said, and “I really don’t feel it’s over.” Could he be wrong about that, someone asked. “I hope I am,” he responded.